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October 10, 2019

6 signs your school has a quality tech program (part 1)

Millions of young people across the country are back in school now. And if you're the parent or mentor of an aspiring teen technologist, at this point, you may be evaluating the quality of your middle or high school's tech program. How can you spot a good one?


In this excerpted conversation from our Technologist Talk Radio podcast, Eric Larson, senior director at Creating IT Futures, who studies career and technical education and training programs, pulls a page from Charles Eaton's award-winning book, "How to Launch Your Teen's Career in Technology: A Parent's Guide to the T in STEM Education," sharing the first three of six signs of a quality school tech program.


Bullet point number one is a “teacher who's passionate about teaching tech,” as Eric elaborates for podcast host R.C. “Bob” Dirkes:


Eric: This is something that school districts struggle to find, individuals who can teach technology… There's a lot more money typically, in other fields besides teaching, and if you have the know how to make computers do your bidding, are you going to spend your time making potentially six figures outside the classroom or something less in the classroom? That said, there are a lot of people who really feed off the energy of students. And they want nothing more than to be in that atmosphere of young people learning and to be catalysts for that… the energy of the students is what drives them. So, I've spent time with teachers who not only teach their class load during the day, but they help run the technology club, sponsoring that… maybe they take students to competitions in any number of organizations. Their day doesn't necessarily just stop at 3:30...if a school district or school can find someone who has that extra passion to share with students, then that's typically the sign of a successful tech program.


Bob: And it doesn't necessarily have to be an individual. It's also the support system around it, isn't that what Fuse brings?


Eric: Fuse is… a program that makes this first bullet point more possible because... [it’s] a program that is self-directed for the student. So, a student logs in to the system andTechGirlzEvent4 copy they're working very much independently, looking at how-to videos that step them through a given challenge. But they're choosing the challenges. They're walking through it with the videos. They are turning to the teacher for help when they need help. They're also turning to their peers who have maybe completed a certain challenge and... [can] help step them through it. It really frees up the teacher to be more of a facilitator, a cheerleader, motivator, rather than the repository of all knowledge, which is really a log jam again, for a lot of school districts. Finding that subject matter expert who will forego the high salary in industry to come teach in the classroom.


Bob: Sounds like the embodiment of the second bullet: “A hands-on classroom working on activities students can relate to.”


Eric: It really is hands-on. And the software that they use, for some of the challenges, is oftentimes, it’s professional-grade software. To design 3D animation. There's sketch-up CAD software that's used for one of the challenges in designing a dream home. That's the name of the challenge is “design your dream home.” And some of these programs are used by professionals in their day to day [work]... giving students a taste very realistically of what they would do on the job, in some cases.


Bob: The third bullet is “encouragement to earn a certification or learn more through tutoring sessions and peer-to-peer coaching.”


Eric: We're past the point where someone can expect to work in IT and not work with other people. So we really want to encourage programs to, yes, teach the information that gets a student on the path to certification and skill acquisition, but also have those qualities of peer-to-peer collaboration, teamwork, because those skills will make or break a student on the job down the road… We're always encouraging certification, which is learning a body of knowledge… proving you know some skills. It's also being able to apply [those skills] in an environment where you're working on things together.


To read Part 2 of this interview and learn about Larson’s last three signs of a quality school tech program, click here.


Technologist Talk Radio is a podcast from CompTIA’s tech workforce charity, Creating IT Futures, where we share stories about nurturing the next generation of technology talent – aspiring technologists from teens in middle and high school to adults in career transition.


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